Of the 10 most visited countries by international tourist arrivals (at least, according to pre-coronavirus pandemic data), five are in Europe: France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the U.K., respectively. Given these destinations’ rich histories and cultures, it is easy to understand why they appeal to a diverse array of tourists.
But flying to Europe is expensive and purchasing a ticket needs to be justified by spending enough time there. Sometimes you may want a small taste of European culture without actually doing much travel. Or maybe you call a country in Europe home and you’re itching to visit. Luckily, several places in Japan have been designed to provide a European atmosphere.
Here are five places you can visit in Japan if you can’t (or don’t) want to go all the way to Europe.
1. Huis Ten Bosch (Nagasaki)
Craving a taste of the Netherlands? Arguably the most famous Europe-like destination in Japan is Huis Ten Bosch, a recreation of a Dutch town that also happens to be Japan’s largest theme park. The park is named after one of the residences of the Dutch royal family. However, it is basically a small city the size of Monaco.
The idea may seem kitschy, but it is a beautiful park with windmills and Dutch-style architecture, cobblestone streets and a canal leading to the ocean.
Visitors on a day trip can enjoy viewing seasonal flowers, eating at one of the park’s many restaurants and watching a musical show. Staying the night in the park is also possible and visitors can choose from several European-style hotels and see the nighttime illuminations.
2. Akasaka Palace (Tokyo)
Longing for Vienna in particular? Akasaka Palace in Tokyo’s Minato Ward will make you feel right in the center of Austria’s capital. In fact, the palace’s main building was designed in the Neo-Baroque style to resemble Hofburg Palace at the very center of Vienna. Akasaka Palace is also one of the largest buildings constructed during the Meiji Period.
Originally called Togu Palace, it was designed by architect Kitayama Tokuma and built in 1909 as the imperial palace for the crown prince. Even after the crown prince’s residence moved, Prince Hirohito resided in the palace from 1923 until 1928.
In 1967, the former palace would be renovated as the new state guest house. Since 1974, it has served this function and its first official state guest was American President Gerald Ford. It has also been a venue for international conferences, including G7 summit meetings. In 2009, 100 years after its completion, it was designated a Japanese national treasure.
3. British Hills (Fukushima)
Looking for an escape that feels like England? British Hills, located in the mountains of Fukushima Prefecture, was designed to resemble a village in Britain. However, it’s an educational facility, or “immersion village,” and many visitors are students who visit on school trips. British Hills employs teachers and staff from all over the Commonwealth. English classes are available for everyone from elementary school students to adults and business learners. Of course, visitors don’t have to study English to enjoy British Hills.
There are many available accommodations, all of which use authentic British architecture and furniture. Options include dormitories designed in the style of traditional British boarding schools and guest houses built in the traditional styles of different time periods, like Tudor and Georgian.
4. Kobe Kitano Ijinkan-gai (Hyogo)
Just a short walk from Kobe’s lively Sannomiya area is the Kitano Ijinkan-gai at the foot of the Rokko mountains. After the Port of Kobe was opened in 1868, foreign diplomats and merchants settled in this district, designed by a British man named J.W. Hart to resemble a European townscape.
The houses built for the residents of Kitano-cho were designed by two European architects. So the district is home to many examples of authentic and high-quality European architecture from that period.
Today many of these mansions are open to the public as museums and visitors can see several of the houses with a combination ticket. The district also includes a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a small shrine, making it a charming place to take a walk.
5. Jiyugaoka (Tokyo)
If you would like to walk down some European streets, there is a neighborhood in Tokyo that can satisfy your desire. Jiyugaoka is cozy and quaint and has been dubbed Tokyo’s “Little Europe.” The locals consider it an osharena machi, meaning “a stylish and sophisticated place.”
Jiyugaoka was a rural area until rail services became available in the 1920s, making it easily accessible from central Tokyo. Its name, “Freedom Hill,” comes from a local school well-known for its liberal education.
Nowadays, pedestrian-friendly streets are lined with trendy cafes, fashion boutiques and homeware shops. The neighborhood includes the Peter Rabbit Cafe and a small piazza called La Vita, styled to resemble Venice and features Italian architecture, a canal and even an authentic gondola.